As Baker College looks to consolidate its campus footprint in metro Detroit, it is proposing a new flagship campus in busy downtown Ferndale, according to a City Council agenda item.
According to a memo from Ferndale Community and Economic Development Director Jordan Twardy, the Baker College project would be located at the northwest corner of East Nine Mile and Bermuda and an adjacent city-owned parking lot to the east of Como’s restaurant.
The campus would serve approximately 1,500 students and 50 staff, bringing an average daily peak traffic of 250-300 people per day, primarily during daytime hours, to downtown Ferndale, the memo states.
The school reached out to the city with the proposal in December, according to Ferndale Mayor David Coulter.
“We’re always interested in opportunities to increase our daytime population,” Coulter said. “We are well-known as an entertainment district with a robust evening scene, but a successful city needs daytime population as well, and that’s one area where we haven’t been as successful.”
Baker College said in a statement that it plans to close its Flint Township campus by the end of August 2020, and shift operations to its Owosso campus. As part of a two-year strategic timeline, the school also plans to move operations from Allen Park, Auburn Hills and Clinton Township to a flagship location in metro Detroit that it did not identify.
Students were notified of the college’s restructuring plans at 11 a.m. Friday, spokesman Jason Brown confirmed in an email to Crain’s.
The proposed plan is an opportunity to have students, faculty and staff in Ferndale during the day supporting businesses, which is “attractive,” Coulter said, and offers a educational opportunity for its residents that is “intriguing.”
“I would only emphasize that we’re very early in this process and Ferndale likes to do a thorough job in vetting these sort of proposals with a community engagement component to make sure its a right fit for our character and needs as a city,” the mayor said.
Patrick Ong, principal and project manager for Bloomfield Hills-based developer Acquest Realty Advisors Inc., said Baker College has been working on the Southeast Michigan consolidation for about a year and hopes to have construction started on the proposed three- to four-story building by late summer, with completion in time for the fall 2020 semester.
The first floor of the building is expected to include “some type of activation,” Ong said, typically retail space of some kind.
A summary of the exclusive negotiating rights agreement to be considered at City Council’s Monday night meeting says a 300- to 400-space parking deck is also planned on one of three properties — two privately owned and one owned by the city. The parking deck would have street-level retail and potentially a residential component. The three properties are: on the south side of Vester Street between Bermuda Street and the alley; a parking lot on the north side of Vester adjacent to Valentine Distilling Co.; and a city-owned parking lot between Ferndale City Hall and Ferndale Public Library.
Bloomfield Hills-based TMP Architecture Inc. is the architect on the project. The company has done work in higher education for the University of Michigan, Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, Eastern Michigan University and Oakland University among others, according to the company’s website.
Ong said Baker College considered other communities for the campus but ultimately settled on Ferndale. He declined to reveal the other cities.
“They were looking for an urban area, they wanted to be downtown in a city and we looked at a number of different areas,” Ong said.
The school’s Clinton Township building at 34401 S. Gratiot Ave. is for sale $2.79 million, according to CoStar Group Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based real estate information service.
In the statement, Baker College said the consolidation of its Southeast Michigan footprint “is designed to provide students with the college environment and amenities they expect and deserve. That said, Baker recognizes these changes come with challenges, and did not easily arrive at the decision to consolidate its campuses.”
Students impacted by restructuring plans will receive “generous scholarship packages to support the completion of their educational pursuits,” according to the statement.
A total of 9,165 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled for the fall term last year, the school’s enrollment statistics show. In comparison, during the height of the recession in 2009, fall enrollment surpassed 43,000 students, according to Baker College’s website.
Baker College traces its roots back more than 100 years to Flint.